Ukraine crisis: Columbia acts to help traumatized seafarers and families

Written by Nick Blenkey
Mark O'Neil is moving to help traumatized seafarers

Mark O’Neil, president and CEO, Columbia Shipmanagement: “Raising the money is not the issue here, it is what you do with the money.”

Columbia Shipmanagement (CSM), together with its owning company and its clients, have raised over $1.5 million and assembled a team of 320 psychologists, mostly from Ukraine, to aid traumatized families of seafarers who have been impacted by the war in Ukraine.

The package of measures, financed by the newly set-up Columbia and Clients Charitable Fund, will help to provide accommodations, as well as professional psychological support, to traumatized seafarers and their families at designated “Columbia Sanctuaries” in Poland and Romania.

Mental Health Support Solutions (MHSS), providers of professional mental health support to the maritime sector, has drawn together the team of 320 psychologists which will be on hand to assist seafarer families suffering from the effects of the war in Ukraine.

Columbia Shipmanagement has taken over a hotel in Romania and two villas in Poland. These will act as safe harbors for families waiting to go through the visa and immigration process. The families are welcome to stay for up to six months while their applications are processed.

“My only requisite was that the accommodations had security guards on the doors to protect the women and children coming in,” said Mark O’Neil, president and CEO of Columbia Shipmanagement. “We have set up these sanctuaries for six months, all fully paid for, and the families will receive food, accommodation and clothing. Then, via the work of MHSS, we are also able to provide the necessary psychological support

“The war in Ukraine has impacted many members of our maritime community. I’m so proud of what the industry has been able to achieve through this joint action to raise funds so we can support seafarers and their families during this incredibly difficult and challenging time.

“The situation in Ukraine is deeply distressing, far more so for those directly impacted, and providing accommodations and psychological help is the least we can do. We all stand united in our support for all seafarers and families impacted by this terrible conflict.

“I have said from the start, it is all about the victims of the conflict, whether they are Ukrainian, Russian, Georgian or Filipino, it doesn’t matter. They are the victims. And when we set up the Columbia and Clients Charitable Fund, Schoeller Holding, our shareholder, and CSM each put in $500,000. Some of our clients and staff contributed to the extent that we now have upwards of $1.3 million to $1.4 million in the fund. The guiding principle was that the fund should not be bureaucratic as we wanted to put cash in the hands of those who needed cash without having to constantly reconcile the money.”

As part of its initiative to help traumatized seafarers, CSM has also set up four rendezvous points, one in Russia, one in Ukraine, one in Poland and one in Romania for any families that may need food, clothing or accommodations.

“These rendezvous points are there to thrust cash into the hands of those who need it and assistance is there to help get them through the asylum system,” said O’Neil. “This rendezvous program has been extended, via InterManager, to any seafarer families employed by other ship management companies on a reciprocal basis.”


Charles Watkins, clinical psychologist and CEO of Mental Health Support Solutions, said: “I’m pleased that the industry is recognizing the importance of mental health. War torn families not only need financial aid but also psychological support because these normal and abnormal psychological reactions to traumatic events can impact for many years. The quicker people receive professional support the better.”

According to Watkins, Ukrainian psychologists were very eager to get back to work and to help people in need

“Yesterday we had two people arrive here in Romania from Mariupol who were traumatized and we were able to offer the right support in their own language,” said Watkins. “The earlier you treat the mental issues, the higher the chances that they will be OK. Thanks to the fund, we can offer post-traumatic stress psycho-education as well as regular counsling; it is all coming together. Every sanctuary will have its own specific needs but there will also be general needs. It is fantastic that CSM has made this possible because this type of crisis counseling is new.”

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